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The question was closed. Currently, my closure reason comment has 25 upvotes. There are several bad answers. I cannot find any comments about reopening (too many to read them all carefully.) Why is the question open now?

Why are female students evaluating my teaching worse than males?

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The question is open now because it was actually reopened by the votes of five users.

Once the question was reopened, since other comments were piling up, I deleted the few comments discussing closing and reopening because it seemed that there were no other objections (the fact it was New Year's Eve may be a reason, though). The deleted comments were:

  • I am genuinely curious. What is the purpose of closing? OP asks some useful questions that can potentially have good answers. Maybe others experienced a similar situation and can provide a general answer.

  • Voting to reopen. Even if there's not a simple, concrete answer, a good response could be something like how to go about a fact-finding mission. If this instructor wants help figuring out student feedback and improving their course to make a better environment for all of their students.. I mean, isn't that a really good sort of question?

  • Voting to reopen. Thanks for insights

I left your comment for the suggestion "Try asking your students", which may be valuable.

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  • 2
    1. Having a useful answer does not make it on topic, especially if the useful answer does not answer the question or is purely opinion. 2. How to find facts answers, of which there are several, are not answers to a question that requests facts rather than methods. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 1 at 10:14
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I'm not claiming that the question is on topic: I think it's one of those bordeline cases that might be considered on topic, maybe with a few adjustments. But this is for the community to decide, I don't think we mods should act unilaterally in any direction now. The objections that you bring in the comment above would be better added to your meta question, if you want to present a case to convince the community that it should better stay closed. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 1 at 10:24
  • My comment was in response to the comments you quoted, not you. This meta-question does not make a case for anything. I am still considering if I care to open another meta-question requesting action. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 1 at 10:38
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Just answering the technical side of this: If you go to the question’s edit history, you can see that it was reopened shortly after being closed (and by whom).

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  • Interesting that someone voted both to close and then re-open the question. – Daniel R. Collins Jan 2 at 21:19
  • @DanielR.Collins so vote to close then vote to open - pre drinks then post drinks... :) – Solar Mike Jan 7 at 10:11
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tl;dr The question was answerable because someone could post the information necessary to help the asker figure out what they were asking about. While this may've meant telling the asker that they had some investigation to do, that's perfectly fine – just like it's fine to give abstract answers on SE.Math or instructions on how to figure out a computer problem on SE.SuperUser.


Somewhat belated, but wanted to explain my reason for voting to reopen...


Discussion: Good answers are maximally concrete, but sometimes that's still pretty abstract.

Hypothetically, say someone on SE.Math asks:

If x + y = 2 and x = 1, what's y?

Then we'd tell them that y = 1.

But say someone asks:

If x + y = 2, what's y?

Should we close their question for not having enough information? Or, is it okay to be abstract in saying that y = 2 - x?

I'd frame this as an issue of folding abstract syntax trees. When we answer questions, we:

  1. Parse the question.

  2. Fold it as much as possible.

  3. Post the result as an answer.

For example, when answering either SE.Math question, you'd probably arrive at the fact that y = 2 - x. However:

  1. In the first case, you continue to find that y = 1 because you're able to.

  2. In the second case, you stop and post y = 2 - x because that's as far as you can go.

Point being that questions are still answerable even if we don't have enough information to "fully" answer them.


The SE.Academia question discussed in this SE.Academia.Meta question could be answered abstractly.

With respect to this SE.Academia question, it'd seem hard to give a concrete answer (like y = 1) to why the asker's female students gave them lower scores than their male students.

Still, it seems like we could answer it.

I'd suggest something like this:

  1. Put yourself in the asker's shoes.

  2. Imagine how you'd find the answer to this problem.

  3. Fold it as far as possible.

  4. Post the answer.

Of course, there'd be a lot of ways that you could, in theory, find an answer to the question.

For example, one possible answer might be:

  1. Invent a time machine.

  2. Go forward into the future to where there's thought-reading technology.

  3. Bring that technology back to the present.

  4. Use it to figure out what the students' reasonings were.

That'd be sorta like telling the SE.Math person that they should get a quantum-computer to find an approximate solution for y. Which, obviously, would be a bad answer despite technical correctness.

Instead, good abstract answers ought to be reasonably implementable. For example, a good answer might:

  1. Present the space of likely explanations based on published researched or/and personal experience.

  2. Suggest a practical methodology for narrowing down the presented possibilities to as few as possible (ideally one).

For example, a good answer might be like:

Studies have shown that, when there's a gender disparity in student feedback, it's likely due to one of the following reasons:

  1. Teaching style appealed more to one gender than the other.

  2. Subject was more interesting to one gender than the other.

  3. Students perceived instructor as having been sexist.

In order to determine which of these common explanations may be applicable to your case, you should:

  1. Perform this inventory to determine if your teaching style has a gender bias.

  2. Check this table for gender preference statistics on your field, and then this correlation to estimate the expected effect on student feedback.

  3. Consult with your TA's to get their opinions on if perceived sexism may've been an issue.

Of course, if the asker had included more information, e.g.

  1. a detailed description of their teaching style;

  2. a full description of their subject and course content;

  3. feedback from their TA's on if there may've been perceived sexism;

then instead of posting the more abstract answer, we could fold it into a more concrete conclusion.

The point's just that we don't need to simply say something like

Your female students were more bored by the subject matter than your male students.

if we don't actually know that to be the case.


Conclusion: The question was answerable, even if not concretely.

In short, while there may not have been enough information to precisely explain the gender disparity that the asker saw in their student evaluations, a good answer wouldn't need to provide such a concrete answer any more than a good SE.Math answer would need to provide a specific number.

Instead, it's okay to give an asker a framework that they can use to find their concrete answer. For example:

  1. If someone's asking for a solution to a math problem, it's okay to give an algebraic response instead of a number.

  2. If someone's asking how to fix their computer, it's okay to give them instructions on how to diagnose the problem before actually telling them how to fix it.

  3. If someone's asking about how to interpret student feedback, it's okay to give them instructions on how to go about examining that feedback.

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